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SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s reelection campaign is hitting GOP rival Mark Ronchetti with an unexpected attack with just over three months until Election Day – that he supports “defunding the police.”
The assertion is based largely on comments Ronchetti made during a May primary election debate, but the comments appear to have been taken out of context and Ronchetti’s campaign called the claim a “flat-out lie.”
During the KOAT-TV debate, Ronchetti accused the Democratic governor of making it more difficult for New Mexico law enforcement officers to do their jobs, adding that officers “don’t want more money, and they don’t want more guns,” but instead want support from top state officials.
“We have to back the blue,” Ronchetti also said. “We have to tell them we will support them no matter what they need from us.”
However, the Lujan Grisham campaign seized on the “money and guns” comment in a new online video that claims Ronchetti would slash law enforcement funding levels if elected governor in November.
A campaign spokesman for Ronchetti, who won a five-way Republican primary in June, said the video – and its claims – insult the intelligence of New Mexico voters.
The Ronchetti campaign also released a statement from Robert Parra, the president of the New Mexico Fraternal Order of Police, who described the video as inaccurate.
“The New Mexico Fraternal Order of Police is surprised to hear fabrications that Mr. Ronchetti is anti-law enforcement or is planning to defund the police,” Parra said. “On the contrary, according to his crime plan and our numerous discussions with him personally, Mr. Ronchetti is a strong supporter of law enforcement.”
In defense of the claim, the Lujan Grisham campaign cited a tweet from Ronchetti criticizing state government spending growth during the governor’s first four years in office, asserting that means he does not support funding for State Police salary increases and law enforcement hiring and training included in this year’s $8.5 billion budget.
“New Mexicans deserve a leader with a track record of delivering on public safety – not an out-of-touch, inexperienced TV weatherman who doesn’t believe it’s his responsibility to keep New Mexicans safe and would defund the police,” Lujan Grisham campaign spokeswoman Kendall Witmer said in a statement.
Ronchetti has rolled out an economic plan that includes annual rebates for New Mexicans and sweeping tax cuts that could provide more financial relief for state residents and businesses, but the plan could also reduce the amount of money available for state spending on public schools and other programs.
At the same time, Ronchetti has also called for an expansion of law enforcement training and recruiting.
Along with the economy and abortion, crime has emerged as a top issue in this year’s race for governor, with Ronchetti criticizing Lujan Grisham for her handling of crime-related issues since taking office in 2019.
Specifically, Ronchetti has cited a rise in violent crime and has blasted Lujan Grisham for signing the 2021 Civil Rights Act, which allows lawsuits to be filed in state court for constitutional violations committed by police officers and other types of public workers.
However, while New Mexico had the nation’s second-highest violent crime rate in 2020, crime rates have not increased in all parts of the state.
Albuquerque, Sunland Park and Farmington were among the cities that saw a rise in violent crime over a recent five-year period, while Santa Fe, Rio Rancho and Los Lunas all saw decreases in their crime rates, according to Legislative Finance Committee data.
Meanwhile, charges that candidates support “defunding the police” have been used as political ammunition in recent years after national protests sparked by the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers prompted debate about police brutality and systemic racism.
But the claims have – in most cases – been made by Republicans running against Democrats.
Overall, public safety spending makes up roughly 6% of New Mexico’s total state budget – or about $491.5 million for the current budget year.